Comment: Foreign policy will affect referendum

It’s still debatable whether foreign policy will sway the referendum vote, writes Scott Macnab

Tensions in Ukraine with Russia, and those in Gaza and elsehwere will loom large in the mind of voters. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Tensions in Ukraine with Russia, and those in Gaza and elsehwere will loom large in the mind of voters. Picture: Ian Rutherford

THE WORLD no longer feels such a safe a place. The prospect of another Cold War with Russia looms ever larger as the Ukrainian crisis escalates.

The devastation in Gaza, as daily images of dead children emerge from the battered strip, provoke global outrage even by Middle East standards.

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The impact of this new wave of global instability has remained largely outside the independence debate, but is it likely to have an impact? Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, during a trip to Edinburgh at the weekend, suggested it matters. At this time of growing uncertainty around the world, it is important to stay strong – to stay together.

“The world is a pretty volatile place at the moment,” he said. “Look at what’s happening in Ukraine, look at what’s happening in Gaza, look at the tension in North Africa – this is a time for people to work together not to fall apart. In times of insecurity and uncertainty, it’s all the more important that we dwell on what unites us – not seek to create divisions that will weaken us.”

The SNP has sought to place the issue at the heart of the independence debate, insisting an independent Scotland won’t repeat the foreign policy disasters of the recent UK governments, particularly the Iraq war. The Scottish Government has sought to place clear blue water between itself and Westminster.

And as the UK government’s most high-profile Muslim minister Baroness Warsi resigned yesterday over its “morally indefensible” position on Gaza, Scotland’s Muslim external affairs minister Humza Yousaf was in the Scottish Parliament calling for an arms embargo to be imposed on Israel as he addressed MSPs. This was agreed at a meeting of the Scottish cabinet yesterday and sends a clear message to voters disenchanted with the UK’s recent record in global affairs. That Scotland could take a different route after a Yes vote.

But geo-political relations can be a minefield for leaders, as Salmond discovered to his cost earlier this year. A few loose remarks about Vladimir Putin’s “admirable” qualities were seized on by opponents and saw the First Minister plunged into a diplomatic row. A dose of real politick, perhaps.

And whether world affairs will have an impact on the referendum outcome is unclear. The crucial tranche of undecided voters are likely to be swayed by economic issues, polling shows. But there will be a significant constituency of Scots who feel strongly about foreign policy given the UK’s recent history. It’s a question of how many are already firmly in the independence camp and how many “don’t knows” can be persuaded to vote Yes.